Exhibit or Attend

Exhibitor or Attendee?

Once a coffee trade show is selected, one must decide how to participate: an attendee or exhibitor? There are benefits and drawbacks to each.

Exhibiting at a Coffee Trade Show

A trade show display is not a market stall or living brochure hoping to attract passers-by. A well-organized display (or booth) projects a message. It says that your business is capable and credible to do business within a market. It provides a known meeting place for staff and customers and a site for cupping demonstrations and tastings. The display functions as a base of operations for the duration of the trade event, usually two or three days.

coffee cupping session

Cupping sessions are often an exhibitor privilege

Exhibitors may also have access to privileges not available to ordinary non-exhibitor attendees, such as:

  • early and late access to the event floor
  • cupping or meeting rooms (for hire)
  • lead retrieval systems that scan attendee badges (for hire)
  • listings in printed show guides or on a show website
  • priority consideration as a speaker in lectures
  • reduced advertising rates in related trade publications
  • access to attendee lists and contact information

However, this comes at a significant cost measured in thousands or 10s of thousands of euros, which may be beyond the reach of small companies. If unable to participate as a single-company exhibitor due to cost, check with a local coffee export association to ask about joining as a part of their group at a shared rate. Government trade programs and NGO market access initiatives may also offer subsidies or other programs to assist small business exporters doing business abroad. If unavailable, consider sharing a stand with like-minded competitors or customers (importers, roasters) interested in promoting your products. However, these arrangements can be complex.

Time is also a consideration. Planning to exhibit at a significant international event should begin 10-12 months in advance. Several decisions must be made, logistics must be arranged, and administrative requirements that require extensive preparation must be met. Consider how much time remains until the show begins. If scheduled in less than four months, you may wish to attend.

Attending a Coffee Trade Show

Attendee credentials at professional trade show events are usually inexpensive and provide access to the trading floor and many show activities. Attendees can walk the floor to observe competitors or meet with customers and suppliers at or outside the event, but booth-to-booth selling is strictly prohibited. Walking trade show aisles handing out marketing materials or green coffee samples is unacceptable. Promoting goods and services for sale is the exclusive right of paying exhibitors or advertisers. Alternatively, attendees wishing to sell coffee at a trade show may consider hosting an offsite event or hotel hospitality suite.

Anyone may host offsite events, such as cupping sessions or social engagements. These activities are regularly scheduled by coffee companies, maintaining offices or retail locations in the host city of an event. To promote a brand offsite, consider arranging for cupping room space at a nearby customer’s coffee shop or roastery or hosting a cocktail reception at a restaurant for clientele.

Suites at nearby hotels can double as a reception venue and a meeting room away from the busy show floor. Be sure any hospitality suite is within close walking distance of the conference facility, as most attendees of professional trade shows have limited schedule availability.

Hotel hospitality suite

A hotel hospitality suite can be an alternate venue for cuppings and meetings

Budget Comparison Attending versus Exhibiting

Reserving booth space at an event is a small piece of a coffee trade show exhibitor’s budget. Thoroughly investigate costs before committing to an event since additional services (e.g., electricity or show insurance) may be sold separately. Consider requesting a sample budget from the event organizer.


  • advertisements (show guide, trade media, social media promotion)
  • catering (water for coffee, milk for espresso drinks)
  • display equipment (brewing equipment, grinders, airpots)
  • exhibit (show-provided shell or custom exhibit)
  • furniture rental (chairs, tables, sofa, plants)
  • hosted events (dinners, parties, hospitality suites, cupping rooms)
  • inbound and outbound freight (freight, plus show drayage)
  • marketing materials and supplies (handouts, green samples)
  • services (electricity, cleaning)
  • sponsorships (competitions, show features)
  • supplies (extension cables, cups, paper filters, towels, cleaning supplies)
  • travel expenses (flights, hotels, meals, ground transportation, visas)

The sample budget below compares potential costs to participate as an attendee or small exhibitor (e.g., 3m2 display) at a fictitious coffee trade show for illustration purposes. Market prices and assessed fees vary substantially by city and event, so update these costs with actual data provided by an event organizer.

  Attendee Small Exhibitor
Exhibit space / attendee registration €150 €3,500
Display costs (modest design, build) N/A €2,500
Insurance (required by show) €250
Freight (in/out) N/A €750
Advertising, sponsorships Optional €1,500
Furniture rental N/A €350
Services (electrical, cleaning) N/A €250
Marketing supplies Optional €500
Lead retrieval system N/A €150
Catering (brewing water) Included in suite €250
Hospitality suite or event €1500 (optional) N/A
Misc. supplies €50 €150
Subtotal €200 attend
€1,700 w/suite or event
Travel (per person)    
Airfare, ground transportation €500-€1,500 €500-€1,500
Hotel (3-days attendee, 5 days exhibitor) €525 €875
Visa costs (if applicable) €100 €100
Meals and incidentals (3-days attendee, 5 days exhibitor) €225 €375
Subtotal Travel (per person) €1,350-€2,350 €1,850-€2,850

Part 5: What to Bring